In the early 1990’s my wife Jen and I thought it might be a good idea to develop a notecard line featuring some of my Maine paintings. I was a new artist; excited about the endless potential paintings I could paint featuring our surroundings along the coast of Maine. Jen had been successful in launching a salad dressing business in our prior life and we both have a bit of entrepreneurial spirit in us. At the time, there really wasn’t anything like it, reproduced paintings of the coast of Maine on notecards. We thought it might fill a niche.
Well, next thing we knew we were on our way to check out printing companies. We knew the net profit per card would be small so in order to get the cost per card down we had to produce in quantity. We also wanted to support a Maine business, not to mention the name of our company would be Maine Coast Cards.
Notecards are small in size (5 x 7) but when you produce 60,000 of them in a run, on huge presses, all of a sudden you have pallets stacked with boxes that will fill up closets and take up significant office space! We weren’t thinking small but we weren’t quite ready for what we had created! LOL. It was exciting to think of all the possibilities!
We started the business with just 6 images of Maine scenes that I had painted. We started driving up and down Route 1 (more east and west if you look at a map) along the coast of Maine stopping in every small town and gift shop we could find. I would park and wait in the car while Jen would run in with her little bag of cards and try to sell our “line” of cards to the shop owner. I would give her the thumbs up as she went in, wishing her luck and when she came out she’d give me the thumbs up, or down, depending on how it all went.
Usually the shop owners were very friendly. Most greeted her warmly. Even though we weren’t Mainers, we were selling a Maine product and they liked that. Jen was never pushy, always smiling and excited about my art, the cards and being able to offer the store owners something new. However, there was a gift store in the Scarborough area (to remain unnamed) where Jen walked in and in no-time the door flew open and Jen was almost being booted out by a lady with a scowl on her face! How dare she cold call her! No appointment! Jen is already small in stature but she felt even smaller! LOL. We still look back and laugh at that experience. I can picture it like it was yesterday.
Jen secured quite a few small accounts, lots of quaint gift shops up and down the coast. The card business was fun and it was a nice way to familiarize people with my art. But we had thousands of cards. We started thinking bigger and signed up for a big trade show in Portland, Maine. We bought a booth in the new products section and when the time came we went with our measly notecard line and two limited edition prints and opened our booth for business. We were somewhat mortified when we looked around at all of the elaborate booth set-ups. People put huge effort and significant money into their displays and we looked like real newbies!
I think the starkness of our booth and Jen’s friendly face worked in our favor because we landed the big LL Bean account! LL Bean; the largest outdoor sporting goods/clothing/furniture retail store in the state of Maine and a must-stop for everyone traveling to Maine. They are known internationally for their quality Maine products and they wanted our little line of notecards!
We went home totally jazzed, had more notecards printed immediately, and loaded thousands more notecards in many more boxes into our house. Business was good. LL Bean asked us to produce a line of postcards with my images as well, which we did.
After I started painting for MBNA full-time, I was producing fewer Maine scenes. We realized that in order to keep all of the shop owners and LL Bean happy we would have to produce more notecards with new images on a regular basis, which meant printing thousands of new cards every year. We decided to gradually phase out the business. To this day we continue to sell out our inventory. We have a good friend that is representing us and selling them on Etsy online.
Jen helped Maine gallery owners get their own line of notecards started and the concept lives on.
It was a great entrepreneurial experience! We did it together and we learned a great deal. It has been fun looking back on our little venture.
Here are just a few of the notecards from our collection.